Monthly Archives: January 2020

“What does it matter, a dream of love or a dream of lies / we’re all gonna be the same place when we die”

-Kathleen Brennan & Tom Waits

“Listen: We are here on Earth to fart around. Don’t let anybody tell you any different!”

-Kurt Vonnegut

The hardest part of doing anything is confronting the question of why you’re doing it. Every question of intent inevitably leads to further questions – of whether that intent is likely to be fulfilled, of what the costs will be along the way, of what greater intent that intent seeks to fulfill… and each of these then leads to further questions, about what ultimately the purpose of existence and creation are, until eventually, inevitably, a negative end point is reached, at which no more answers are available. The tendency to ask “why?” is innate to us from birth, only given shape when we learn the word itself – the habit only dies off when we come to realize that at the end of the chain of why’s we will eventually find nothing.

So we stop asking why.

It’s only natural to shy away from the end of the knowable by becoming unknowing. There’s always this vague ambition of immortality through art or science, of extending one’s existence by the reputation and utility of one’s accomplishments, but this isn’t an ideal that holds up under scrutiny. One by one, the dominoes will be knocked over, and eventually the universe itself will cease to exist in any meaningful way. Perhaps longevity is possible, but immortality certainly is not.

We are finite – as a species, and as individuals even more so. Perceiving our own boundaries, our limitations, is uncomfortable. Any endeavor, no matter how noble or worthwhile, can be evaluated as pointless and worthless on the scales of long-term universal demise. If you ask yourself ‘why’ enough, you will be left empty-handed and beyond reason.

And yet.

As individuals, we fight for our survival, because to not do so is to embrace non-existence, and existence is the main thing we do. The society is an extension of the individual, and we fight for the existence of society because if it fails we fail. Humanity is an extension of society, and so society fights for humanity, because if humanity fails society fails, and so forth outwards – if the ecosystem fails humanity fails, if the solar system fails the ecosystem fails, if the universe fails the solar system fails. Though our ability to affect the highest tier is nearly non-existent from our positions as individuals, it’s all still connected. What we are left to strive for is, if not immortality, a kind of sustained long-term health of the systems we are intrinsically part of. We create things for the larger shared benefit of those things having been created.

What’s left is a kind of intellectual and utilitarian shared hedonism. We fight, we build, we work, for the shared joy and understanding of the system we are part of. For our own joy and understanding in making things, for the joy and understanding of others when we share them. There is no eternity, but we can make ourselves stronger, more thoughtful, and happier right now by sharing what we have. There might be no forever, but there is a tomorrow, and we can keep fighting for that for as long as there will be tomorrows.

We’re all in this together.

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I’m still processing the end of Twin Peaks: The Return.

When I was a kid I was fixated for a while on the importance of the number two. Two, I reasoned, was the number that was the building block of all other numbers: Any number could be expressed as a combination of twos, of doublings and divisions and so forth. This probably prefigured my destiny as someone who works with computers, and while there was some degree of naivete at play I do think I was onto something, some part of a big idea. Two is the number that represents the concept that there can be more than one of the same thing – Which, while one might assume it to be a property of nature, is a human invention. The conception of a creature or object as a discrete unit, and the idea that there then could be more of them, is the beginning of the mathematical system of abstraction, which eventually leads to such wild concepts of the idea of there being 0 of those units or, nonsensically, absurdly, a negative number of them.

Two, as a number, contains the implicit concept of boundary, of demarcation, of this and that. I’d say division but that means something else in math. I’d say differentiation but that also means something else in math.

All of which, by a long and roundabout path, brings me back to Twin Peaks. This show is many things, but one of them is an extended rumination on this idea of duality – at first through the fairly straightforward lens of places and people that are beautiful and friendly on the outside but troubled with deep darkness within, then refracted through increasingly surreal and abstract versions. Contrasts of light and dark, love and hate, future and past, and how we get locked into these patterns with no way out. The name itself alludes to this idea, that there are two extremes – but that the residents of Twin Peaks, that all of us, spend most of our time somewhere in between.

The symbolism and causality of Twin Peaks are not clear cut, and I’d hardly venture to suggest I have any definitive answers as to what happens or why. All I’d like to do here is explore some of the impressions and ideas imparted by the show. Some spoilers will be discussed from this point on. You should watch the show first if you have any intention of doing so.

There are locations in Twin Peaks that seem to exist outside of the world, but my impression is that these don’t so much represent an opposite extreme, a dark world to our light world, as they do a pivot point, a place in between. This is the place through which change happens, through which human impulses are laundered and warped. It is timeless because it is the meeting of past and future, in the same way that the gravity of two masses cancels out directly in between them, in the same way that the center of a spinning fan is stationary, and because this is the point of equivalence this is where people freely change places with their opposite-but-equal doppelgangers.

What if you woke up tomorrow and were someone else? Someone with all the same memories, but a different perspective on what they meant, what they signified? How would you know the difference? Isn’t that just what happens, by degrees, every time we wake up? What if you became the worst version of yourself, everything you feared you might be? What if you were certain this had already happened? It’s never clear how Bob ‘possesses’ people, inspires them to hurt and kill those they love, but it seems like evil goes where evil’s wanted. There’s always a seed of the hurt he wants to put out into the world before he gets there.

It’s never really clear what Bob gets from it, whether he lives out his desire to kill through his victims or merely foments their own murderous lusts and intents – but perhaps desire is the wrong framework, and he’s more of a force of nature than a malicious entity, more of a personification of desire than a person with desires. But he grants power… in the way that a contract with a demon might – or in the way mere determination and disregard for the lives of others might. As strong as Bob might make those under his thrall, we see others find the same sort of strength through other forms of selfishness. In strange, petty, trivial ways, poor half-blind Nadine finds her way into incredible strength – and then, perhaps, back out of it, when she learns how to see through other people’s eyes.

What struck me most about the season as a whole was how much it knew what viewers wanted to see and steadfastly kept it away from them. We wanted to see Cooper, we wanted to see problems solved, we wanted to know what happened next, we wanted an ending. We wanted more Twin Peaks. There is no more, there can be no more, of what Twin Peaks was though. You cannot, as I said last week, recreate the experience of experiencing something for the first time. We can’t keep ourselves from trying, though. We’re locked in the middle, immobile, between the future and the past, where everything seems stuck in place and where time has no meaning, where we’re not sure if the person who woke up in our bed is the person who went to sleep in it. There’s not going to be an ending, there’s not going to be a wiki with definitive answers. There’s a gap in the center, a hollowness, where gravity can’t reach. The place in-between.

This is the water, and this is the well. Drink full, and descend. The horse is the white of the eyes, and dark within.

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Nostalgia’s not what it used to be. With a small delay, the standardized media practice of selling the same thing over and over again becomes elevated, refreshed, a satisfying throwback, a novel familiarity and a familiar novelty. Every new film franchise entry is a New Coke in Coke Classic’s clothing. They keep trying to make a new Star Wars, Lion King, or Ghostbusters and each time it seems like they miss the target, that they’ve changed too much, or changed too little, or somehow both at the same time. They miss the mark because it’s impossible to recreate the experience of experiencing something for the first time. They miss the target because there is no target to hit.

This is a struggle that all sequels have to contend with at one point or another, but the problem becomes more difficult and complex the longer the delay between entries. If you make a sequel to something that came out a year or two ago, it’s enough to continue the plot while still remaining relatively true to the spirit of the work – but if it’s meant to be a sequel to something released decades ago, then the desire you contend with becomes one, not merely of continuation, but of recreating an artifact of a bygone era within the constraints of a vastly different cultural context.

So it seems that when we make sequels, when we continue an old story, we must step beyond our nostalgia. It is uncomfortable. No work can compete with the selectively-edited memory of its predecessor. It’s hard to move forward and to be something new when you’re tied inexorably to your past. The twin demands of moving forward while being anchored in place are too much for most artists to handle. One-hit wonderment is not merely a symptom of artists with too shallow a well, but artists who feel constrained to be exactly the same person tomorrow that they were yesterday – or artists who don’t survive the backlash from fans when they fail to do so.

We keep hunting for something that can’t be found. Nostalgia is the pain of knowing that the ingredients of your existence have been discontinued, that there are things you have lost that cannot be regained. In our more positive moments, it’s easy to think of all the wonderful things we have now that we may not have had before, or to remember all of the awful and uncomfortable moments that plagued our past lives and we’ve left behind. But the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence, and the roses are always redder on the other side of our rose-colored glasses.

I finished belatedly watching through the third season of Twin Peaks a short while ago, and I keep thinking about the show’s relationship with the past. It’s hard to say exactly what a show as strange as Twin Peaks is about, but it seems a story about how trying to connect with the past is impossible. Memory is a game of telephone, and every repetition adds a little bit of noise and changes the message a little bit. Like a wax cylinder, you can’t play memories back without re-remembering them, without overwriting, embellishing, deforming the shape of whatever it was you experienced however long it was ago. Other peoples’ stories become our memories. Our personal history is just another TV show we watched 25 years ago. You can’t go home again, you can’t go back to the beginning, and if you try you’ll just find a disconnect, a spiral where you wanted a circle.

We keep trying to tell cyclical stories, stories of how history repeats, and it’s starting to seem like a form of denial. History will, eventually, cease to repeat itself, and we’re getting more and more nervous that that date, beyond which there will be no more dates, may be approaching. Much as ghosts are both terrifying and a welcome reassurance of life after death, imprisonment in endless cycles is terrifying and a welcome reassurance of life after life. So we beat back, boats against the current, borne on ceaselessly into the future.

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